Thursday, 13 October 2011

German Wine Trip: Mosel & Weingut Dr. Loosen

It's a bright sunny morning as we head off to the Mosel today, a distance of 90 km from Rheingau. I'm getting tired of the preset female voice on the GPS system and switch it to a male one. Lady J insinuates that it's because I refuse to take instructions from a woman.

The Mosel is Germany's fourth largest wine-growing region with around 9000 ha of vines predominantly planted with the Riesling grape. The extreme steepness of the slopes on which the vines are planted means that the traditional system of planting is on poles. This makes it easier for workers to navigate through the vineyard since they can move across rather than up and down. The soil tends to have a higher slate content than Rheingau. Saskia Prüm, winemaker at S.A. Prüm joked to us that German winemakers have as many words for slate as the Eskimos do for snow. Thus there is blue slate, red slate, grey slate, etc... all of which have a subtle influence on the style of the wine.

Besides its stunning wines, the Mosel is also home to Ernst Loosen, Germany's most dedicated wine ambassador and Decanter's chosen Man of the Year in 2005. When we met him, he had just returned from a trip to Malaysia where he visited the cabin crew of Malaysia Airlines and conducted a food and wine pairing of satay and Riesling. The man has restless energy, even during our sit-down tasting, where he alternated between getting the wines from his cellar, chatting with us and playing with his beautiful black dog, Diana.

Although his family had a tradition of winemaking, Erni almost chose archaeology as his vocation. The turning point came in 1986 when his father fell seriously ill and none of his brothers or sisters wanted to or were able to take over the reins. Erni had to choose between continuing his archaeology studies or manage the estate. Having made his fateful decision, history lost a dedicated researcher even as the world of wine gained a passionate advocate.

Dr. Loosen's top vineyards, of which there are six, are designated as Erste Lage according to a 1868 Prussian classification of Mosel vineyards. Unlike in Rheingau, this is an unofficial rating that is not recognised by German wine law. Erni throws up his hands when I ask him about the ongoing changes to the classification system, saying that "It should be simplified... it is already so difficult to explain it in the foreign market".

The Rieslings of Dr. Loosen, and of the Mosel in general, are very different from Rheingau Rieslings. The Mosel Rieslings have riper fruits like yellow peach and nectarine compared to the white peach and citrus notes of the latter. Conventional wisdom states that Rheingau produces Rieslings that have more body and richness, but I'm going to go out on a limb and take the opposite view. Certainly the cooler climate of the Mosel extends the growing season, meaning that the grapes have more time to slowly ripen on the vine and develop those exotic summer fruit characters.

I was completely blown away by the 2010 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Grosses Gewächs Riesling. The vineyard gets its name (Sonnenuhr means sundial in German) from a large sundial in the middle of the vineyard. The sundial is missing the number 7 because as Ernie puts it, "At that time, the shadow is in the shade so you wouldn't be able to see it anyway!" The soil consists of pure blue slate with a very thin, rocky topsoil. The wine was astoundingly complex, with layers of stone fruit, white flowers and honeydew notes surrounding an electrifying stony minerality. And gosh, the finish! So intense that it made it difficult to tell whether I had swallowed the wine or not. 

The 2010 Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Grosses Gewächs "Alte Reben" Riesling is made a parcel of land containing the oldest vines of Dr. Loosen. The vineyard is comprised red volcanic and slate soils, which lends a slight note of earthiness to the wine. Alte Reben, which means old vines, has no common definition, but since the vineyards of Dr. Loosen are already very old to begin with, Erni reserves this term only for the very oldest vineyards which average over a hundred years.

For the 2.2 ha Erdener Prälat vineyard, the story goes that in 1066 the Bishop of Trier was kidnapped by robbers and held for ransom at a castle overlooking the Mosel vineyards. Unfortunately, the bishop didn't have too many friends, and no one was willing to fork out the cash to get him freed. Frustrated by the cost of feeding the bishop, the robbers threw him out of the castle, and he landed on the spot which is now known as the Prälat (bishop). Erni cheekily refers to this story as the reason why the vineyard makes "bloody good wine". The 2010 Erdener Prälat Grosses Gewächs "Alte Reben" Riesling has an enticingly aromatic, elegant nose of wet stone and a touch of spiciness. The palate was clean and precise with notes of melon and tropical fruit salad. This really is a wine that you'd want to lay down and track its evolution.

The 2006 Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese reveals Erni's marketing acumen. Faced with a large crop of botrytis-affected grapes and a market unwilling to pay premium prices for sweet wines, he decided to bottle the wine in 187.5ml sizes (quarter bottles). So instead of buying a full bottle of this rich, sweet wine, which would be near impossible to finish in one sitting, the smaller size allowed it to be comfortable savoured without any wastage. It turned out to be a hit, and sells especially well in airport duty free areas. The wine has intense aromas of honey, botrytis and freshly kneaded dough. Rich and concentrated fruit on the palate, but with feathery lightness due to the low 7% alcohol. It's a wine that can be opened and consumed at any time without risk of leaving a hangover.

Dr. Loosen wines are exported to 65 countries around the world, and in Singapore they are distributed by Hock Tong Bee Pte Ltd.

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